April 18, 2013
I often think about Campbell’s quote, not least when times are tough and people are clearly having to “put up and shut up”. It reminds me of that scene in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and of the Kurtzman dilemma I wrote about in Brand Engagement.
The dilemma alludes to the flawed notion that we can somehow entirely divorce the “work” me from the “home” me and is caricatured by the famous scene in which Mr Kurtzman, the sinister, institutionalised manager is undermined by his own “army” of clerks who clearly despise their tawdry roles.
The scene starts when Kurtzman is suddenly disturbed in his grey factory of an office by the sound of cinematic gunfire. When he throws open his office door to investigate, contrary to his suspicions that fun rather than work may be afoot, the general office of clerks is unexpectedly a hub of normal industrious activity. Meanwhile, behind his back, his personal monitor switches from the figures he’s been working on to a classic Western movie.
Returning to his office, the moment he closes his door the movie resumes on the monitors in the general office and the clerks once again grind to a leisurely halt. The scene repeats itself several times over, the manager, Kurtzman growing increasingly paranoid and agitated with every iteration.
As the viewer we’re complicit in the subterfuge which is revealed to us whenever Kurtzman opens and closes his office door. It’s a memorable parody of the “us” and “them” mentality and the way we’ve been conditioned to view work and leisure activity as polar extremes. It also illustrates how, despite even the most draconian of regimes, the human spirit of rebelliousness and mischief in pursuit of some form of involving interaction will out and will channel the attention, creativity and energy of employees.
In my experience of working with brands across sectors and with people at a variety of levels, it’s that self-same human spirit, call it what you will, that makes or breaks organisations. People are undoubtedly more comfortable, more engaged and more productive if they are self aware enough to understand their deep-seated hopes, desires and ambitions and the values and behaviour that can lead to the fulfilment of those desires and dreams.
In turn, organisations are much more engaging, successful and ultimately sustainable (the ultimate objective) if they are clear about their goals, values and culture. Put another way:
Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual).
Sure, it’s natural for leaders to become obsessed with survival and enforcing the ”day job” in the tough times. But the sooner we all recognise that it is the day job of leaders at all levels to encourage self-awareness, self-actualisation and to cultivate a true performance culture in which people feel free to be themselves and thereby share in the ownership of the organisation’s goals, the faster the recovery process will be.
And that’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t it?
March 25, 2013
The status of HR remains one of the persistent love ‘em or hate ‘em leadership debates of our time. After two decades of business transformation experience at the sharp end, despite the ravages of time, I still stand squarely in the HR camp.
This is largely because I believe passionately in the importance of behaviour to brand and organisation performance and that the enlightened CEO should embrace rather than marginalise the HR function.
To transform an organisation successfully and sustainably from within, the CEO and HRD need to work shoulder to shoulder as the most important custodians of organisation culture.
The CEO always has demigod status whether they cultivate it or not. And first line managers are of course, the critical behavioural pivots around which organisation culture revolves. But when I reflect on the many culture transformation programmes I’ve led or facilitated down the years, there isn’t one that was successfully achieved without first transforming HR.
There are two very good reasons why:
- Like it or not, the HR function owns most of the people processes like recruitment; induction; performance management; reward; training and development and even internal comms. And we all know what happens to the house if we don’t take care of the plumbing
- HR professionals, in my experience, tend to have highly-tuned survival instincts that enable them to adapt to the needs of the most vociferous business leaders, fly the people flag yet avoid alienating themselves from their more left-brained colleagues. However, rather like litmus paper they soak up and reflect prevalent leadership cultural norms.
You have to transform the HR department if culture change is going to stick. So it makes sense to ensure that the HRD plays a leading part in the business improvement programme or process.
There’s clearly little doubt that HR has a lingering and possibly worsening image problem, however. According to a very recent survey of 418 C-suite managers, for example, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by management consultancy KPMG:
- a mere 17% believe that HR does a good job, with many seeing it as a non-essential department.
- 75% of those questioned pointed out that their workforces were becoming increasingly global, virtual and flexible, yet only 25% believed that HR excelled at projecting the employer brand and finding and retaining international talent.
- A worrying 24% also warned that HR teams were simply unable to support the company’s globalisation strategy
Not the greatest endorsement from this group of internal customers, albeit the research was undertaken in an age when we’re hardly being overwhelmed by positive leadership role models generally.
I’ve been in fine company when I’ve called for culture change, not just in Financial Services, but within the boardrooms of many of our FTSE organisations. The Governor of the Bank of England; the CEO of the CIPD and many organisation leaders themselves have recently acknowledged the role that culture has to play in sustaining business and brand equity. Businesses and brands aren’t built on promises but on the cumulative weight of the everyday actions of workaday employees. Culture is the sum of that behaviour. Terms like presenteeism have recently been dreamt up to describe the invidious impact of rotten culture. It’s what happens when employees turn off yet dangerously still turn up. My shorthand for them is the walking or working dead* and in the current business climate, if we’re to believe the overwhelming evidence of the more credible engagement research it’s unsurprising that shambling masses are seemingly shuffling to work in the undead equivalent of droves.
The term culture change rolls easily off the tongue. But it’s tricky to implement, especially when you’re part of the problem and are too close to the key issues. No CEO can fix corporate culture alone. If the likes of Stephen Hester at RBS are serious about a culture-led transformation of their brands, it’s time they stopped filibustering about values and behaviours hoping for favourable PR. They need to start inspiring and empowering their HRDs who in turn clearly need to become more than yesterday’s seemingly safe pair of hands. And if they don’t believe in their HR leadership the time may well have come to seek out more proactive talent to help wake the walking dead.
* Brand Engagement (PalgraveMacmillan 2007)
November 15, 2012
Nice to catch up with the brand synonymous with conciliation and arbitration, Acas, last week and to hear that they’ve been endorsing our approach to employee engagement for some time now.
Here’s what they posted on their website at the turn of the year, revisited in the hope that it may inspire a fresh perspective or two in this final quarter:
A few simple tips from employee engagement expert Ian Buckingham can help you get 2012 off to a productive start.
- Give credit where it’s due: Key to staff engagement is giving recognition and constructive feedback. If a member of your staff has done well, let them know – and let everyone else know, too. Championing good practice and achievements can work wonders to incentivize staff and breathe new life into a stagnant working environment. Similarly, if there’s room for improvement, give constructive advice and let everyone benefit.
- Keep the door open: Be an approachable, hands-on manager who listens. An environment where staff feel that their suggestions will be taken seriously can help boost your in-house problem-solving capabilities and encourage creative thinking at all levels of your organisation. You might even find you uncover some hidden talents among your workforce!
- Communicate: Talk to your staff. Tell them what your plans are for the future, and explain how they feature in it. Even if the news is bad, your staff will appreciate being told what’s going on rather than being kept in the dark.
- Know and nurture your people: Even when times are hard for your business, don’t lose sight of the fact that the people who work for you still have goals and dreams. Listen to them, find out what they want to achieve in their careers and do what you can to support them. Take the time to discover and develop the unique strengths of each member of staff and your business will reap the benefits.
The Acas engagement mission of promoting employment relations and HR excellence has always been music to our ears. Let’s hope these few simple messages help improve the employee engagement and wellbeing statistics , even if it has to be one line manager at a time.
November 6, 2012
The November edition of Admap in which Ian regularly features, explores the vital role of the employee in creating engaging brand experiences whether in the physical or virtual shopping space.
In collaboration with retail environment specialists M Worldwide, Ian asserts that as customer choice increases, employees always make the difference between a truly innovative, enriching and engaging service experience whether delivered online or face-to-face.
He singles out the emergence of holistic brand offerings like Nuffield* and Lloyds Pharmacy as examples of organisations who “get it” and strive to “get it right” by collaborating with and engaging their brand champions to ensure that they fulfill their ambitious service promises.
Click on the link below to read the article in full**:
*Talking about our work creating the Nuffield Service Promise and Champions Engagement strategy, our client said: “You introduced some fantastic ideas, challenged our people to discover what they need to be as leaders, and created high quality, engaging materials.”
**The article is, of course, a collaboration between the authors and the publication and is reproduced with permission of Admap.
Like the millions of people suffering withdrawal symptoms after the extinguishing of the London 2012 Olympic torch in the wake of an epic games, I was deeply moved and hugely impressed by the awe-inspiring opening to the London 2012 Paralympics watched by a UK tv audience of over 20 million people.
As that grizzled hack Simon Barnes of The Times put it:
“The opening ceremony began last night with a Big Bang, in just about every sense of the term, and some words from Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most agile mind once again leaping free from the ruined body. It was all good inspirational stuff, but doomed to be forever second-best to the inspirational things we will see as the Games start today.”
Watching those extraordinary scenes of exceptional people it reminded me of the Motability brand re-launch which remains one of the most successful transformation programmes I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with and which still puts so many FTSE 100 change journeys to shame.
In the space of two years, Motability went from an apparent employment back water with a laid-back charitable culture to an extremely professional, top 50 organisation in the Times Best Companies poll; Local Employer of the Year; operator of Europe’s largest vehicle fleet and “best thing since sliced bread” in the eyes of their customers who, along with the dealerships, rated the organisation as a premium brand. No surprise then that the stories of so many of the athletes competing in the games, who also happen to be Motability customers, resonate with the brand. Not for profit doesn’t mean unfit for business.
It’s depressing to hear talk of values, culture change and engagement trip so easily from the tongues of so many business leaders in recent times without the intentions or actions to back up the fine words. But when your founding mission was to liberate people with disabilities from the confines of the trike through the simple device of providing the use of a motorcar, perhaps it’s easier to engage the right people in the right way and inspire them with values like Friendly; Flexible and Facilitating. Perhaps. But first they need to feel proud to be part of an organisation that can be as hard-nosed on behalf of their customers as it is accommodating to its customers, which is where the culture bit comes in.
Under the leadership of an inspirational CEO, Mike Betts, the Motability management team transformed the way they do things, the internal culture, in the space of 18 months by opening with a process of engagement via consultation and then role modelling their core values as they set about evolving the processes that mattered most to their people from recruitment through to communication and appraisal.
The engagement of key stakeholders from garages through to manufacturers came next with contract and service levels re-negotiated to the point that the re-designed Motability brand and logo moved confidently to pride of place on forecourts and industry publications. Motability is now a leading player in the UK car market with 1 in 12 or so cars sold in the UK going to a Motability customer.
The 2012 Paralympics is the first in the history of the games to be completely sold out. As always, however, it is the athletes who give the games their soul. What made Motability’s transformation different for me was that there was a universal belief in the core purpose and desired culture of the organisation, from front of house through to the most senior of leaders. It is always the employees, the workaday brand champions who give the organisation its soul. And once they had learned to blend commerciality with passion and conviction while remaining true to the integrity of their core purpose, the brand grew wings. If only the leaders of the abundant beleaguered brands could feel that for themselves, perhaps the spirit of the Paralympic village could work its magic in corporate HQ. In fact, Oliver Holt could have been writing about Motability when he penned these words to describe last night’s events:
“Before a new flame was lit in this magical London summer, the words of an Ian Dury song rang out around the Olympic Stadium. ‘Hello to you out there in Normal Land,’ the lyrics to Spasticus Autisticus went, ‘you may not comprehend my tale or understand.’ Normal Land watched on. Not with distaste. Or disdain. Those kinds of emotions began to seep away a long time ago. Not even with indifference. No, Normal Land gazed at the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympics with admiration, even a little envy.”
* you can read more about the Motability transformation journey in Brand Engagement (I.P. Buckingham 2007).
Writing for Management Today Michael Northcott has just announced that “the spread eagle has hired one of the City’s biggest legal figures to conduct an internal review of the bank’s culture and practices.”
Clearly the Libor and leadership scandal has hit Barclays the hardest so far and now, to try to put this particularly persistent debacle to bed, the bank has brought in what they are calling an expert to lead an ‘independent business practices review’.
Anthony Salz, a corporate lawyer who has been with one of the world’s largest law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringe for more than 30 years and for the last 10 was the firm’s senior partner and now vice-chairman at Rothschild, will lead the review. Apparently he will be supported by what is being called ” a team of dedicated staff “ and “will have a professional services firm behind him”.
I’m not sure how reassuring that will be for shareholders, customers, communities and staff alike, however.
Northcott comments “Perhaps bringing in one of the City’s most accomplished lawyers will be a breath of fresh air for the trading floors”. Commenting on his appointment, Salz said: ‘I very much hope that this review will significantly assist Barclays in rebuilding trust and reaffirming its position as one of our leading institutions.’ That’ll take some doing, Ant…
The announcement comes amid rumours that former Treasury minister Lord O’Donnell is the front-runner to succeed former chairman of Barclays Marcus Agius, although O’Donnell claims nobody from the bank has actually approached him for discussions about the role. He has also been favourite for taking over as governor of the Bank of England next year, but, since money might talk for this career civil servant looking for some decent wedge to top up his pension, we reckon he’d probably go for Barclays. Those millions won’t grab themselves, will they?”
Ironically, only a year or so ago, I was addressing an audience of senior partners from professional services firms who were very clearly just attempting to start the journey towards making the link between culture, behaviour and brand. Most of the talk was of patriarchal cultures, undifferentiated brands and closed shops with little appreciation for the power of culture as a key differentiator. Yet now one of those firms is expected to become a key catalyst for change within the FS sector!
Attempting to put all skepticism aside, as a senior partner within comms, change and brand agencies and someone with in-depth knowledge of the financial services industry; as a communications, change and culture development specialist who has worked both in-house and across sectors, including within professional services at the highest of levels, this really does read like a PR nightmare.
With all the best will in the world how can external stakeholders be expected to swallow the notion that anyone so infused with the culture of the establishment and seemingly devoid of either classic or contemporary culture change credentials can be entrusted to have the objectivity, knowledge or, I’m afraid to say, credibility to either undertake a comprehensive and insightful review or more importantly develop the strategy to bring about the sustainable transformation needed?
I’m sure I speak for most people when I scrape my jaw from the floor wishing the Barclays board well, especially given what’s at stake.
Brace yourselves gentlemen! Good luck, and in the meantime, you might want to read this…….while picking up a copy of this, pdq:
July 17, 2012
Fascinating to read Rosie Baker’s post in Marketing Week today that, according to a study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), brands risk losing customers by failing to create customer experiences that match up to promises made in marketing campaigns ~cue drum roll to mark rather large penny dropping~
Her comments were hopefully delivered with tongue firmly set in cheek as the revelation is akin to a hungover teenager waking up stunned from a very messy party to find that she didn’t come home alone after all yet would inevitably have to remember the name of that body sleeping beside her and sharpish.
The report found that the problem stems from a “damaging disconnect” between boardroom, marketing departments and customer experience. We’ve been warning of this since before the Interbrand days, but would definitely add HR and comms into that mix given they are predominantly responsible after all, for that vital promise keeping community, the employees.
The study says that marketing and brand leaders’ priorities should be seeking to take a more active role in “educating ‘up’ in the organisation” and to build brand understanding across all levels of employees (although not mentioned in the study, that’ll be the HR & comms bit!).
Seemingly seven out of ten (69 per cent) marketers believe that investing in customer experience is more effective than investment into marketing communications when it comes to building brands, but only 13 per cent believe that their company “excels” at delivering a day-to-day brand experience that matches up to what the brand promises (culture and behaviour).
It found that while customer insight and research are being shared across business units, and senior leaders, it rarely permeates the ranks of the organisation. Only 14 per cent of the marketers surveyed said it was the main driver of decision-making.
A third of organisations were found to not use the brand guidelines that are in place, while half of organisations that don’t use customer experience or employee brand behaviour guidelines. That’s 50% of the surveyed organisations failing to climb the very first step on the staircase to brand engagement heaven!
Thomas Brown, head of insights at the CIM, in a quote that could have been taken direct from Brand Engagement(2007) or one of Ian’s many articles, says: “Essentially, brands are built on promises but it’s the experience you have of an organisation that constitutes reality.
“This study shows that leadership and belief have the greatest impact on successfully delivering a branded customer experience … this suggests you can lead your way to a branded experience, but not manage your way there.”
The Branded Customer Experience Benchmark, carried out by Lippincote, surveyed insights from 100 senior marketers at international organisations including Elizabeth Fagin, marketing director at Boots and Markus Kramer, global marketing director of Aston Martin and Mike Harrison, chief brand officer of Timberland.
In light of the escalating spate of brand disasters from the News of the World through to Barclays and G4S, perhaps it’s time the marketing community accepted that, spurred on by this type of research and the big brand body count it’s becoming increasingly likely that CEOs are going to expect much greater”bang” for much less “buck”!
Well, the answer to catching up and climbing that engagement staircase oddly enough lies with plucking up the courage to first and foremost embrace current bedfellows. Then who knows, it may just be the start of something beautifully sustainable after all.
Given the importance I place on the unassuming everyman as the pivotal brand champion, that’s good news for those with the wisdom to realise that sustainable brands aren’t forged in the flames of advertising but evolve steadily from within.
While Microsoft; Apple and co continue to attract the sexy headlines in the technology sector, Fujitsu has become the world’s third-largest IT services provider with over 172,000 employees supporting customers in over 100 countries. Very much a brand to watch, Fujitsu’s Next Generation Technical Computing Unit, for example, recently developed the world’s fastest supercomputer.
But just as very few of us are aware of the impact Arm Holdings has had on mobile technology, chances are you probably had no idea about the credentials of this company. And therein lies the cultural essence of the Fujitsu brand.
Fujitsu’s brand attributes are:
At the start of their brand engagement journey around 4 years ago, the leaders were conscious that in order to grow, that growth would need to be outside of Japan and Fujitsu would need to become accepted as a global brand in key markets and among stakeholder groups externally. But they also recognised that the first step on their journey would have to involve gaining and then sustaining the belief, involvement and engagement of their colleagues within.
Standards of modesty (also called demureness or reticence) are aspects of the culture of a country or group of people, at a given point in time. It is a measure against which an individual in a given society or culture, whether a nation-state or a corporate collective, may be judged.
It’s often expressed in social interaction by communicating in a way exhibiting humility, even shyness and is associated with:
- downplaying achievements
- behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
- avoiding insincere self-abasement through false or sham modesty, which is a form of boasting
Quite a contrast to the traditionally boastful and über confident philosophy underpinning most marketing campaigns and certainly the flip side of the behavioural coin that has caused so much controversy within the financial services sector.
I recall a long conversation with a senior executive from one of the UK mutuals which took place just before the banking crash. He was lambasting his colleagues for their lack of ambition and was calling for more of a performance culture in terms of risk and reward and wanted this to be driven by people processes like recruitment and appraisal. He didn’t get the chance to make those changes. Yet his business, like many of their more prudent peers, has more than weathered the prolonged and repeated financial storms.
The salutary lesson for that brand is that transformation can be achieved without sacrificing the essence of the brand, provided that essence is sound in the first place of course. This is epitomised by Fujitsu.
There’s a healthy balance about the Fujitsu brand attributes, between listening and responding to changing customer needs; having ambition yet remaining genuine or authentic. It’s a formula that respects the all important notion of being able to back up the promises in the glossy brochures with actions, quietly meeting and exceeding expectations rather than shooting wildly from the lip.
Fujitsu’s employee brand engagement champion Julie Clarke is in many respects the apotheosis of the Fujitsu brand, although she would blush at the compliment. Julie has had a long and distinguished career, importantly spanning front line; hr and latterly marketing functions, an important mix of ingredients for the central brand champion. But Julie is characteristically modest about her achievements. She has undoubtedly been instrumental in developing and implementing one of the most comprehensive global employee engagement programmes to have launched since the economic downturn began, very much bucking the global trend. Yet Julie spends most of her time celebrating the pivotal role played by the country champions rather than the centre.
Testimonials from VIP customers, business partners and employees alike are proof positive that in the fourth year of their brand transformation journey, internal and external advocacy levels, colleague communication, good news stories and best practices are on a high despite the global downturn and unforseen natural catastrophes like the Asian Tsunami.
“Our brand engagement journey is the product of constant and ongoing collaboration and is very much the sum of its many parts. We make no secret of the fact that we’ve collaborated with thought partners and external agencies to bring best practices and to help frame our thinking. Brand Engagement was pretty much my bible as I transitioned from HR to Marketing as it speaks to both audiences and sets out the key stages while recognising that the nature of the journey differs from one brand to the next.
Some of our key milestones along the way have included:
- creating a compelling business case for change
- obtaining buy-in at senior leadership level first
- identifying senior sponsors and champions
- simplifying the engagement programme into 4, bite-size phases
- collaborating across hr and marketing
- encouraging everyone to think global but act local and personalise content for their markets
- investing in local training and development
- improving internal communication substantially
- building on the Fujitsu legacy, not reinventing the wheel
- working within the prevailing culture rather than imposing alien approaches
- setting hard and soft goals
- sharing best practices and celebrating wins
- creating a network of credible local brand champions as catalysts and ambassadors
- managing the evolution of the Fujitsu brand story in the context of the wider strategy
It was always our aim to ensure that the programme had local ownership. We’re really seeing momentum now in the form of regional stories and best practices and are well into the embedding and reinforcing stage where the role of local champions will become increasingly important. It’s great to see some of the very real customer case studies making the link between the Fujitsu values and the bottom line.”
There’s clearly still work to be done and challenges to face before Fujitsu assumes the position in the pantheon of global brands that it quietly aspires to. But built as it is on a platform of modesty, realism and engagement-driven innovation, blossoming steadily rather than erupting aggressively, Fujitsu is very much a brand of its time.
* Julie Clarke and her Fujitsu brand engagement story will be one of the brand champion case studies to feature alongside brands like M&S and Arm Holdings in Brand Challenger, the third book in the Brand Engagement trilogy.